David Laxton says he resigned as Speaker of the Legislative Assembly and left the Yukon Party over an allegation of sexual harassment.
Laxton stepped down and became an Independent MLA on May 10, saying he needed to focus on “personal matters.” At the time, he refused to provide more details. But on Thursday afternoon, he released a statement to explain his sudden departure. “The allegation involves an incident during business hours whereby I hugged and kissed a long-time acquaintance when she was leaving my office, which was intended as a friendly gesture, and walked her to the foyer with numerous other people present where we hugged and kissed goodbye again,” the statement reads.
“I would like to stress that I am deeply sorry if the woman in question was offended or made to feel uncomfortable by my actions.”
Laxton is calling for the government to launch a third-party investigation of the incident, and says he’s confident his name would be cleared.
In an interview, Laxton said the incident happened in February, but he didn’t hear anything about it until May 9, the day before he resigned.
According to Laxton, the woman came to his office for about two hours back in February. She was leaving her job, and she’d brought in her resume for him to look at. He said he told her where to look for jobs on the government website.
Laxton said he hugged the woman and kissed her on the lips when she was leaving his office, and again in the foyer as they walked out. He said that “became a normal thing” over the years of their friendship, but it was never romantic.
“I met her when I first came here in 1998. We’ve just been friends,” he said. “We’ve had a purely platonic relationship. We’ve hugged and kissed each other hello, goodbye for years.”
Laxton said there was nothing in the course of that encounter that suggested to him the woman was upset or uncomfortable.
On May 9, the Yukon Party’s chief of staff, Michael Hale, approached him about the incident, Laxton said. He believes the woman “talked to somebody else who talked to someone else,” but he wasn’t sure whether she had spoken directly to anyone with the party. He said there’s also no indication that she has gone to police.
“There’s no formal allegation whatsoever,” he said.
Still, once the party spoke to him about the incident, things started to move quickly. Laxton said the decision that he would resign was made that day.
“We certainly had a conversation. At the end of the conversation, that seemed to be the appropriate thing to do,” he said. Asked if he decided to step down of his own accord, Laxton said “I don’t know. This was the best thing to do.”
He said he supports the government’s zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment.
“Sexual harassment is a very serious thing at any stage or at any point,” he said. “It’s a personal embarrassment to me. I never saw this as a possibility. I’m a very open person. I’m beside myself and quite frankly I’m embarrassed and quite concerned with the whole thing.”
Laxton’s political future is now unclear. He is currently sitting as an Independent MLA for Porter Creek Centre, and still seems interested in running for office in this year’s territorial election.
But it’s not clear which party he would run for, if any. Laxton’s resignation came less than a week after he made his re-election announcement for the Yukon Party. Now, the party isn’t saying whether it would welcome him back.
Laxton said he still believes “in what the Yukon Party stands for,” and thinks he might have a future with the party if his name is cleared following a third-party investigation.
“Once that happens, maybe we can rebuild back to where we were and move along,” he said.
But he also didn’t rule out the possibility of running as an Independent, or even of joining one of the two opposition parties. He pointed out that he originally ran for office with the Liberals, back in 2006.
“Anything’s a possibility,” he said. “I have to think about it some more.”
All doors may not be open to him, however. Liberal Party chief of staff Jason Cunning didn’t mince his words when asked about the former Speaker.
“We have no interest in taking Dave Laxton into the Liberal Party,” he said.
NDP spokesperson Mike Fancie said that “if the situation arose, (the party) would consider it,” but refused to speculate further.
Meanwhile, Laxton maintains that he never saw the sexual harassment allegation coming. He said it took him more than a week to explain his resignation because his doctor recommended that he take some time away, and he needed to get advice about how to respond.
He said he hasn’t reached out to the woman because he doesn’t have her phone number or any way to contact her.
Laxton was absent from the legislative assembly last week, but returned on Monday. He asked his first question as an Independent MLA on Wednesday, regarding the future of the Vimy Heritage Housing Society.
After Laxton released his statement on Thursday, Premier Darrell Pasloski published his own statement on the matter.
“We take all accusations about sexual harassment extremely seriously,” it reads. “There is no place for that kind of behaviour in this caucus or in our community.”
The News has asked whether the government will launch a third-party investigation, but has not received a response.
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